A minibus carrying mourners from a funeral plunged off a cliff into the ocean in the eastern Caribbean island of St. Lucia, killing 16 people, authorities said Friday.

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St. Lucia is in the eastern Caribbean near Martinique. ((CBC))

The dead include an infant, a pregnant woman and the bus driver, 47-year-old Michael Alexander, who apparently missed a turn in the road and plunged 15 metres down the cliff, Chief Fire Officer Lambert Charles said.

A young girl who was found alive in the debris died en route to a hospital, he said.

Crews are still looking for a 17th person they say is missing.

Police said they are investigating what caused the Thursday night accident in the southwest village of Choiseul.

The disaster has shocked the island country of approximately 160,000 people.

Foreign Minister Rufus Bousquet, who represents Choiseul in Parliament, described the accident as "a human tragedy of unprecedented proportions."

From same village

All the dead were from the village of Micoud on the island's east coast, police Cpl. Trevor Constantine said. They came from an impoverished but tight-knit community of about 350 residents.

Hundreds of neighbours there sang hymns and held an overnight vigil clutching 17 candles in memory of those killed, said Education Minister Arsene Vigil James, who is the area's MP.

"They know each other, so any calamity within that community, all the people there would feel a sense of sadness," he said. "It was a very grave accident, one that we have not heard of in the history of transportation of St Lucia."

Psychologists met with students before the village's school closed early, like others in the region.

Lorena William, a 55-year-old Micoud resident, said her cousin was among those who died. She said the driver's three children and his girlfriend also were aboard the bus, as well as a family of five and two twin boys.

"All the people were very close neighbours," she said. "I know everybody."

Charles said bodies were strewn across the beach at the scene of the accident.

On Friday, both the country's major political parties announced they were suspending campaigning for the Nov. 28 general election.